Hello and welcome back to the Nerd’s Eye View, where we look at movies, not from the technical aspects of a film student, but through the eyes of a fan. And speaking as a fan…I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! I’ve watched most of the cartoons, seen all of the movies, and had multiple action figures. My cousin and I used to have Ninja Turtle/Transformer battles with storylines ranging from frontal assaults, to espionage, to love triangles. I even had Ninja Turtle bed sheets! So, being such a huge fan, please believe me when I say that this latest incarnation of TMNT is one of the most flawed movies I have seen in a long time. Doing a play by play of this movie cannot do justice to the kind of mistakes this movie makes (but that won’t stop me from trying).
We start the movie with a voiceover talking to the turtles, his sons, about how special they are as comics of them in the sewers when they were kids pass by on the screen. Who is this voice? We don’t know. The movie hasn’t introduced us to him yet. Except the movie is frickin’ Ninja Turtles so we already know it’s Splinter.
Anyway, he proceeds to tell us the turtles are destined for greatness and to protect New York City (meaning Manhattan as they never seem to visit Queens much). And who does the city need protecting from? The Foot Clan, “so named because they step over the good people of this city with no regard”…yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not why they’re called the Foot Clan Michael Bay, er, I mean Splinter. I don’t think, when the Shredder decided to form a criminal organization, he said, “We’ll call ourselves the Foot Clan because we will step over people.” Sounds silly just reading it, right? But don’t worry, there’s a method to the madness of that explanation. You’ll have to wait for Part 2 for me to tell you, though.
So, despite being destined to save people from the Foot, Splinter tells the turtles that their training is incomplete so they must wait. Trust him, be patient, and let thousands of New Yorkers die until they can pass the chunin exam.
Next we have April O’Neil trying to cover a story about a chemical robbery. And here is one of the biggest problems I have in this film: the story focuses on April too much. Yes, she’s a main character in the story, but she has as much screen time as our heroes, if not more, and the story actually seems to revolve around her most of the time. I wanted to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not Mid-twenties Human Lousy Reporter. But I digress.
April is trying to get answers about a daylight robbery on the docks. Guys stormed in with guns and stole restricted chemicals, chemicals so restricted that you can’t even buy them on the black market. Ok. Let’s just go with that. And what are these highly restricted chemicals used for? Genetic research (dun dun dun)! Before we can find out more, April’s camera guy lets us know that she’s not actually supposed to be working on this story as the story they are being paid for will start soon and they’ll be late. So what late breaking news takes our intrepid reporter away from the Foot Clan’s chemical robbery and possible genetic research? Covering the latest exercise craze of jumping on a trampoline and flapping like a seagull. That’s sure to lose inches off your belly.
Camera guy tries to tell April it’s ok to give people something light and fun for the news sometimes and then offers to reward her with some food at a restaurant (and possibly his penis). April doesn’t decline him as much as she seems oblivious to his advances, and tells him she is going to ride her bike back to the docks to cover the story some more.
After getting permission to talk to the supervisor at the docks, April stumbles upon a crime in progress by the Foot. Deciding NOT to call the police, she instead calls the news room to report the crime, she gets ignored and decides to get closer so she can record it on her cell. While doing so, she sees the Foot being attacked. Someone is beating them up from the shadows, throwing them into the ocean and…tossing shipping containers? The Turtles are strong enough to toss shipping containers, the things it takes heavy machinery to move.
I have no problem with that.
Anyway, the Foot retreat and the ninjas, these masters of stealth slip away unseen…except when Raphael stands on top of a building in front of a security light being clearly seen. But he looks cool doing it, so that’s ok (also, this is the last time they show any stealth in the movie so I hope you enjoyed it). They’ve also left a calling card, a symbol, on the side of one of the containers. April takes a picture then goes home, presumably after NOT calling the police again.
At home, she rants to her roommate about a vigilante fighting the foot clan, that she recognizes the symbol from somewhere, and that this story will make her big. Then the next morning, she goes to work and no one believes her because: 1) there’s no report of a crime at the docks last night (too bad there wasn’t an eye witness who could have called the police) and 2) all she has is a photo of the symbol with no explanation of what it means. Editor Whoopi Goldberg ignores her and is right to do so.
Now the movie shows us some real reporters discussing the rising crime rate, specifically the Foot Clan. They show video of a councilman saying the city is “reaffirming” its commitment to fighting crime by renewing the contract of Sacks Research and Security, a security company owned by Eric Sacks that is already NOT stopping the Foot Clan, else they wouldn’t be Renewing the contract. Makes sense, right?
Next we see a quick scene of Shredder beating a couple guys while kneeling and with his hands literally tied behind his back. The sole purpose of this is to show us that Shredder is a badass. I would say the purpose is to introduce us to him, but since his face is in shadow the whole movie and that he speaks Japanese the majority of the time, introduce is too strong a word. He basically tells Karai, the second in command, that she needs to do something for losing face the night before and to put a stop to the vigilante.
Meanwhile, Sacks is being honored at a dinner for being the NYPD’s biggest benefactor. He says he will continue to support the police against the Foot Clan because they once attacked his business and killed one of his employees. Coincidentally, said employee was April’s dad. After the speech, April goes up to him, reminds him that he actually knew her as a child, and says that she admires him. He encourages her to do her best at Channel 6 then leaves.
Soon after that little scene, we have April riding with camera guy as she talks about how inspirational Sacks is when they see dozens of people running from something. Channeling her inner Lois Lane, she exits the news van to find out what’s going on. Cut to the several tv screens showing a news broadcast of people running from a subway as the Foot has started taking hostages. We hear four voices who are obviously the turtles. One turtle is talking about surveillance cameras showing the Foot, one turtle says they have to follow rules and stay in the sewers, another one says they should break the rules, and the last one is watching a video of a cat playing “chopsticks” on a keyboard with chopsticks. Gee, I wonder which one is which.
April makes it to the subway, tries to play hide and seek with the Foot and is almost immediately captured, again just like Lois Lane. The Foot, instead of placing all the hostages in one spot, has some sit against the wall while others are made to lie down near the edge of the platform. They then place multiple bombs on the wall for the wall hostages while pointing their machine guns at the platform hostages. Clearly the most efficient use of their man power. To top it all off, Karai demands that the vigilante show himself or she starts killing the hostages. And when I say demands, I don’t mean on the news, I mean she yells it out in the middle of the subway because the vigilante MUST be able to hear her despite only ten minutes having passed since the whole thing started. Oh, and she’s not wearing a mask, so all the hostages she’s NOT supposed to kill will remember her face later.
After about 20 seconds with no response, Karai starts to look around for who she should kill. April volunteers for death by trying to record everything with her trusty cellphone again. However, before she can be murdered, we hear a yell, the lights go out, a train passes by and the turtles start beating people up (in the dark with jerky camera movements making it hard to see). They tie up most of the Foot, but not all, including letting Karai go, and then escape through a debris chute leading up and out of the subway. April runs outside, finds the chute on the side of a building, climbs the fire escape, all the while hearing the turtles celebrating, and takes a picture just as three of them high five each other and the other one again skylines himself on the roof.
Having been caught on camera, what do these masters of stealth do? Do they vanish into the night, possibly tailing her and stealing her camera? Do they drop a smoke bomb and steal the camera in the confusion? Do they knock her out and let her wake up like it was all a dream? No. I already told you the stealth part is done.
Raphael grabs her with a chain (which we never see again), pulls her onto the roof, then looms over her threateningly with his sais out telling her to give him the camera. This upsets Leonardo who tells Raphael to back off. Then he proceeds to loom over April threateningly with his katanas out while telling her to give him the camera. But he says please, so that is much better than what Raph was doing. April subsequently faints.
April wakes up to find she is still on the roof with the turtles standing over her. She asks them what they are and they tell her. They…tell…her. I’m sorry, aren’t you ninjas? Isn’t your existence a secret? Didn’t you just threaten her for a picture? Why are you telling her what you are?!
Raph doesn’t like how she seems to be staring at them like they’re freaks of nature, though they are, and proceeds to taunt her with her camera phone. She asks him not to break it, then Leo takes it from him. He tells Raph that they are ninjas, they don’t break things, they fix them. Funny, I thought ninjas were known for being spies and assassins, not for being Bob the Builder. He then tells Raph that since Donny wiped the phone already, the problem is solved. Raph asks who put Leo in charge to which he replies, “You know who did.” I want you to keep track of this moment. I’ll bring it up again in the future.
Donny tells Leo they have to move to make it home before Splinter, so Leo threatens April again then gives her back the phone. Why would you give her back the phone?! Now I’m with Raphael wondering why you’re in charge. They leave and April takes a picture again. What a shock!
April goes home. Thinking she recognized the names of these strange creatures, she looks through her dad’s work papers and a home video she made of his SECRET RESEARCH PROJECT. Why does she even have these? Anyway, in a notebook titled Project Renaissance she finds the symbol of the vigilante. Then she watches the video which shows her in the lab. They have mutagen from space (just go with it). They have Splinter and the turtles and it shows one of the turtles getting an injection. April then sees her roommate and rants about the vigilantes being her childhood pets. The roommate tells her mom she wants to move back home. It’s funny. Laugh.
Now it’s the turtles’ turn to go home. While trying to sneak in without alerting Splinter, they tell each other to be quiet or else they’ll end up in the hashi. Leo blames Raph for when they end up in the hashi which causes all four to start whisper-yelling and shushing each other. Surprise surprise, Splinter hears them and proceeds to slam, choke, and trip them with his tail. He asks them why they went above ground (and where he was that he didn’t see them leave is never brought up). The movie doesn’t say how he knew they went topside and didn’t just go into the sewer. Maybe his mutant rat sense of smell told him. Regardless, they don’t answer him so they go…to the hashi!
The next day, April has called Whoopi to the newsroom to tell her what she has found out. She tells her that she met the vigilante. That there are four of them. Whoopi naturally asks what they look like. April shows her a picture, but not the picture she took last night after Leonardo gave her the phone back like an idiot. Instead, she shows Whoopi a picture of a baby turtle. Whoopi was with her up to that point, but she just stopped listening after that.
April tries to tell her that every time Foot crime was foiled in the last several months, that symbol was placed at the scene. She also says the symbol is an ancient Japanese symbol meaning family. Now me, I’m wondering why the turtles are leaving “family” at every scene and why the symbol is in her dad’s notes in the first place. Not Whoopi because, as I said, she has stopped listening.
Saying that her dad experimented on the turtles and if Whoopi just watches this video, she will see that everything April has said is connected. She then plays a video that shows April trying to feed pizza to one of the turtles. Surprise surprise, Whoopi fires her. Worst…reporter…ever. Camera guy, realizing that with April fired he might not have another chance to get into her pants, waits for her outside the building, because that’s not creepy, and she talks him into taking her to the Sacks estate.
While those two start their drive, the turtles have been in the hashi for 11 hours. And I have to admit, the hashi is pretty funny to me. Raph is knitting, while standing on one leg, balanced on a seat of a tricycle. Donny is squatting on a spinning plank of wood while juggling a ping pong ball back and forth with paddles. Leo is balancing an egg in each hand using chopsticks, one on his head, and he’s doing a split in midair on blocks. And Mikey is doing a handstand on the arms of a chair. Hmm…being unable to do any of those things to any degree whatsoever, I can say with great authority that Mikey seems to be getting off easy.
With no confession forthcoming, Splinter tries to break Mikey with a “99 cheese” pizza. Mikey tells him everything. Splinter says it is his worst nightmare, but Leo says it’s ok because Donny wiped the phone (it’s not ok because you gave the phone back, genius). But that doesn’t matter. Splinter is concerned for April’s safety and tells the turtles to find her.
By that time, April is at the Sacks estate and starts to question him about the project he and her dad worked on. He is hesitant to tell her anything, saying that it was a dream that died with her father when her dad and the research all burned (except for all that research just sitting in April’s closet). Sensing his hesitation, April has a brilliant idea and, get this, SHOWS HIM THE PICTURE SHE TOOK Of THE 6′ TALL MUTANT TURTLES. She’s a genius!
So, to tell her about the project, Sacks apparently has to tell April his life story. Born on a military base in Japan, Sacks lost his father in Vietnam. An outcast in a foreign nation, he felt all alone (except for all the other Americans on the base including his mom). That is until he met a certain man. This man (gee, I wonder who it could be) “saved” him and taught him lessons shared with April’s dad. Said lessons seemed to consist entirely of that one symbol meaning family.
In the middle of this, Sacks just starts telling a different story of a Japanese warlord who killed a bunch of people and poisoned the water. Then one day, an alchemist developed a cure-all to counteract it. Sacks and dad were trying to replicate that. By injecting space goo into four baby turtles (and a rat). It’s supposed to heal people on a cellular level. So basically, it’s supposed to turn people into Wolverine. Sacks then tells her that those four turtles (and the rat) have the last of the serum in their blood. He thought they were dead, but April says she rescued them. Seeing as she is a turtle whisperer, Sacks gives her a card and tells her to let him know when she finds them again.
So, since the turtles were told to find April and protect her from danger, they, of course, waited for her at her apartment for her to come home, right? Nope. They wait for her to use her laptop so Donatello could hack it. I mean, it’s not like she could have done something silly like not use her computer for a day, or have had the computer be broken or, heaven forbid, not had a computer at all. Then, once she does log on, they tell her to go somewhere alone in the middle of the night to meet them. Yeah, a young woman walking the streets of New York at night. Nothing dangerous could happen in that scenario.
She makes it to the rooftop safely where Leonardo creepily puts his arm around her. Fortunately, this is not Leo putting the moves on her, but is instead his way of putting her at ease before Raph puts a bag over her head so they can take her to Splinter. Seriously, between threatening April with swords drawn, giving her back the phone so she can take another picture of you, and now creeping on her, why ARE you the leader, Leo?
The movie cuts to Sacks meeting a shadowy figure. This shadowy figure is…the Shredder! Oh no! Does this mean Sacks…is a bad guy? Yes. Yes it does. And if you were shocked by this when watching the movie, you weren’t paying attention. He tells Shredder that since the turtles are alive, they can use their blood to continue their plan from all those years ago. And the city will be theirs! Bwahahahaha!
We immediately see the Foot tracking April into the Lair through a high tech system that would make both James Bond and Batman jealous. They can see not only where she’s located, not ONLY the path she took to get there, but the position of every person in the room as they move in real time. All through the business card Sacks gave her. He keeps these high tech cards in his pocket just because, yet people still have trouble using the Find My iPhone feature.
Splinter begins telling April about their past. He says has no memories before being in the lab, but that her dad set the lab on fire after he found out the real plan of Sacks and Shredder. Dad didn’t survive, but April got the them out of the building and set them free into the sewer. Because that’s the best place for a lab rat and four box turtles who have been kept in captivity. And why Dad set the lab on fire while April was still in the building, I do not know.
Splinter and the turtles began to grow almost the instant they entered the sewer because it is apparently chemical X. And either Splinter was significantly older than the turtles or rats just age faster because he was full grown while the turtles were still toddlers. Splinter decided to become a father to the turtles, instead of, you know, trying to eat them like most predators would. And he was apparently a better father than April’s dad, since he never tried to burn them to death.
Seeing that his sons were interested in the world above, and knowing they would be viewed as freaks and monsters, he worried about how best to protect them. Fortunately, Mother Sewer provides all that they need, as he stumbles upon a book: Art of Ninjutsu. That’s right Turtle fans. This version of Splinter isn’t a ninja master turned rat. And he’s not a pet rat that imitated his master in his cage. Splinter knows ninjutsu because he…read…a…book. He read a book! Come on!
Anyway, Splinter…read the book…and became a ninja master. So why is he better than the turtles? Because he learned from the book, but the turtles learned from him. I’m sure teaching them his half baked understanding of ninjutsu was a much better option than letting them get it directly from the source, like he did. Of course, this explains why they’re so loud most of the time. Worst…Ninjas…Ever!
Splinter trains himself then starts training the turtles, again, with weapons Mother Sewer provides (unless they simply stole everything). Surprisingly, the turtles take to ninjutsu at an accelerated pace. They eat, sleep, and breath martial arts (which makes me wonder how good they’d be if they actually read the book). After a short montage of them practicing as children, we see Splinter present Leo his swords, saying that the blades are noble and the weapons of a leader. As for the others and their weapons, he doesn’t say jack about them. Way to play favorites, Splinter. No wonder Leo is a crappy leader.
Now, after all this back story, we find out that the fearsome foursome here haven’t heard any of this before. Leo reminds Splinter that he told them they were rescued by a great guardian spirit, a hogosha. Splinter tells them yes, and that April is the hogosha. Now, I try not to cuss. However, I feel that some situations, like this, are best described by one word: bullshit.
First, Splinter is not Japanese, nor was he raised by a Japanese person. All the Japanese influence we know he would have been exposed to would be Sacks, who shows almost none whatsoever, and that one book he learned ninjutsu from (which was written in English). Second, even if Splinter was the walking embodiment of all things Japan, April is not a guardian spirit. She’s a little girl who, instead of keeping animals safe in her home or placing them into their natural habitat, released them into a potentially polluted, toxic, waste area for them to fend for themselves. If anything, Mother Sewer is a better candidate for the hogosha since it apparently shelters them, clothes them, feeds them pizza, and gives them ninja weapons with how-to instructions. You’re either an idiot or a poser, Splinter.
And speaking of posers, Sacks shows shredder his upgraded armor. He says they refined the robotics, “bridging the gap between tradition and modern warfare” (not to mention bridging the gap between the transformers franchise and the ninja turtles franchise).
Wait, so shredder already had robotics in his armor, and now he has better ones? A guy who can take out three attackers while on his knees with his hands literally tied behind his back needs to not only wear armor, but robotic armor…I think someone is overcompensating for something.
Back in the sewers, Splinter asks April who she told about their existence. She says only Sacks believed her. Splinter tells her that Sacks is evil because he was raised by Shredder (again, no mom and no other Americans on that army base I guess) and Sacks will do anything for him. Raph asks, if Splinter knew all this, why haven’t they been hunting them down? Splinter basically says it’s because Shredder is too good for them to win against.
How do you know this Splinter? When did you see Shredder fight? When did you see Shredder at all? It would make sense for you to know this if you were Hamato Yoshi, the ninja master who trained with Shredder. It would make sense for you to know this if you were the pet of Hamato Yoshi who watched Shredder kill his master. But in this movie, you say your first memories were in the lab. Did Shredder do an inspection of the lab one day then put on an impromptu exhibition?
Seriously, this version of Splinter shouldn’t know what he does or act the way he does and is a perfect example of another big problem with this movie: it depends on knowledge of previous versions of the TMNT story for both aspects of its plot and a number of its jokes. This is an origin movie. You should treat the audience as if they have no idea who these characters are. If your audience’s understanding and enjoyment of the movie depends on prior knowledge, don’t make an origin movie, make a movie continuing off that prior knowledge instead! Ok, before I go off on a rant (a bigger rant?) I’ll end the review here, for now. Look for Part 2, coming soon, to enjoy the rest of it.